NAGS HEAD, N.C. – As a few die-hard tourists soaked up the sun on the broad beaches of the Outer Banks Thursday, emergency preparedness officials warned of a destructive pounding from Hurricane Irene by Saturday.
The Eastern Seaboard from the Carolinas to Cape Cod is in the path of Irene, a Category 3 storm whose top sustained winds reached 115 mph late Thursday as it moved north from the Bahamas. North Carolina will take the initial blow, but â€œthe rest of the Eastern Seaboard is well within the path of this storm,â€ National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.
If the hurricane follows its projected path, making landfall along the Outer Banks Saturday, â€œThis could be a 100-year event,â€ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg advised residents to prepare for possible flooding , â€œand do not swim.â€
In Washington, officials postponed Sundayâ€™s dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial indefinitely because of the impending hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center warned of tidal surges 5 to 10 feet high in North Carolina, accompanied by â€œdestructive and life-threatening waves.â€ Irene could inundate the stateâ€™s coastal areas with 5 to 10 inches of rain Saturday, and up to a dozen inches in some locations, forecasters said.
More than 50 million people live in the projected path of the storm. Some forecasters have said Irene has an outside chance of growing into a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds topping 131 mph. But current forecasts predict that it will diminish to a Category 2 storm after pummeling North Carolina, with sustained winds up to 110 mph as it plows into Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut declared states of emergency. In North Carolina, Gov. Bev Perdue included all counties east of Interstate 95, roughly a quarter of the state. Officials set up emergency shelters inland.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency established depota for food, water, generators, baby formula and other emergency supplies at Ft. Bragg, N.C.; McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.; and Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts.
The latest projections show Irene making landfall Saturday along the Outer Banks between Morehead City, N.C., and Cape Hatteras, before pushing north.
â€œThis is a very dangerous storm,â€ said Dorothy Toolan of the Dare County Emergency Management office in Manteo, N.C., across the Roanoke Sound from Nags Head. â€œPeople really need to take this seriously.â€
Irene would be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike devastated the Texas coast in 2008.
Dare County, N.C., officials ordered the 34,000 year-round residents to evacuate, effective 8 a.m. Friday. But many local residents said they intended to stay because they had survived numerous hurricanes and norâ€™easters over the years.
â€œIâ€™m going to hunker down and ride it out, like I always do,â€ said Karen Sealock, a restaurant manager who lives in Nags Head.
Sealock said she had survived at least a dozen serious storms in her 21 years on the barrier island. She evacuated only once, and that was because her late mother begged her to get out of the way of Hurricane Isabel, which made landfall on the Outer Banks with winds of 105 mph in 2003.